Knox County Schools discuss budget reduction and charter school

Knox County Schools discuss budget reduction and charter school proposal

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By ALEXIS ZOTOS
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A nearly $7.5 million budget reduction and the county’s first charter school were among the topics discussed Monday night at the Knox County Board of Education work session.

The revised budget withdraws an initial proposal for a 3.5 percent raise for teachers across the district.

Previous story: Knox County mayor Tim Burchett’s budget doesn’t include full BOE budget request

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett's initial budget proposal only funded $427.8 million of the school system's $432,335,000 request. Funds for the school system were further reduced when the state cut basic education program (BEP) funding for the schools.

Previous story: Knox County Commission approves revised budget, shoots down tax increase

The school system's plan to deal with the budget shortfall include eliminating plans for teacher salary raises, not budgeting a reserve for hiring new employees to deal with class size issues, and eliminating a central office position and an instructional coach position.  Board member Karen Carson asked whether they could eliminate more instructional coach positions and free up some funding for a smaller raise for teachers.

Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre said that wouldn’t help.

A good chunk of the funding for instructional coaches is not in the general fund, its grants dollars or title one dollars but not necessarily in the general fund, well answer that question for Ms. Carson on Wednesday but the second point is the program evaluation we’ve done show the instructional coaches are a good investment and they’re making a difference in support the work were doing in the classroom,” said Dr. McIntyre after the meeting.

More online: Read Knox County Schools' budget reduction proposal

The other contentious topic Monday night was the application of the charter school Emerald Academy. The board spent more than an hour and a half asking questions and debating the place of a charter school in the district.

Previous story: Plans for Knox County charter school moving forward

 Steve Diggs, the executive director for the Emerald Youth Foundation answered board members concerns, reiterating that EYF is not an outside group and has worked with Knox County schools for years.

Four board members expressed their support of the charter school’s application. Doug Harris, who sits on the EYF board, Thomas Deakins, Kim Severance, and Pam Trainor all expressed their plan to vote yes on Wednesday.

But board chair Lynne Fugate says in the end it doesn’t really matter how the board votes.

“If the board were to deny the charter school request the state board of education would overrule it because it meets all the criteria,” said Fugate.

A frustrating situation since this board is the one that hears the complaints and the praise from the local community.

Several members of the public spoke out against the charter school, including Knox County teacher Linda Holtzclaw.

“We cannot afford to bleed our public schools dry to support this charter, this is public money that could be and should be going to public school children. Vote no to the Emerald charter school,” Holtzclaw pleaded to the board.

Others though spoke out about the need for a charter school in the district. One Knox County parent saying, “I’m excited about the possibility of the Emerald charter school if it becomes an option.”

The board was also excited by the proposal, but for many it’s a concern over funding. In a year with a budget shortfall, the idea that the roughly $9 million dollars associated with each student will follow them to the charter school is tough to swallow.

“No one doesn’t think this application would be great, but the real rub for most members is how you balance that with the issues about funding, we would love to do 15 students to a classroom, we would love one to one technology, that’s what makes it difficult,” said Fugate.

More online: Read Emerald Academy’s application

The school board will vote on both issues at their meeting scheduled for Wednesday, June 4.

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